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Origin Stories, Human Dignity, and The Repair Shop

Origin stories tell us who we are as individuals, and who we are as a society. In other words, if you want to explain some of what you see in society today, you have to look at what we tell ourselves about where we came from.

By and large the predominant story we tell ourselves about where we came from today is the story of chance existence and progress through natural selection. We exist because enough time passed in our universe for the chance of the emergence of life on this planet to come to fruition. And we exist the way we exist today because nature has selected the strong over the weak

Where does this story leave humanity? 

If this is our prevailing origin story, what motivation would we have now for protecting the weak among us? In respecting the dignity of all humans, including the weak and vulnerable, we would actually be working againstthe very forces that have gotten us this far.

Our modern origin story is not one that places much value on all human life.

We are not alone in this.

In the past century or so we have discovered an ancient Babylonian origin story: the Enuma Elish. You can read this ancient myth here.

According to this ancient origin story, humans are not the product of chance and natural selection of the strong over the weak. No. Humans are vermin. We exist to spite and cause annoyance and to do the work of the gods so that they don’t have to. We are the least worthy of honor in all of creation.

This story, and other stories like it, were the origin story of the ancient world.

And then along came Israel. 

In the ancient world every god had an image bearer. Some sort of physical representation of that god. 

The Egyptian goddess of fertility was often represented by a pregnant frog. The Babylonian god Marduk was often represented by a dragon.

Israel was different.

Israel made a bold claim: if you want to know what God is like, you should look at a human person.

The God of Israel, like all other gods of the ancient world, also had image bearers. But they were not made of gold or iron. They were made of flesh and blood. 

This is a wildly different portrayal of humanity than that of any ancient or modern myth. You are not a cosmic accident; you are not a pawn in the battle of the gods. You bear the image of God.

But a closer reading of Genesis reveals something even more fascinating. 

It turns out, you can’t quite understand God by looking at just one human person. The image bearing of God was not complete until there existed multiple human persons. 

According to ancient Israel, if you want to know what God was like, you had to look at human persons in relationship.

Adam did not reflect the image of God until Eve appeared. God said “Let us make mankind in our image, and let them have dominion…” And these two human persons were created in order to produce a third. “You shall be fruitful and multiply.”

You need multiple human persons to properly reflect God because God exists as One God in Three persons.

But it doesn’t stop there. 

These first two human beings were not exactly carbon copies of one another, were they? They were different. In fact, they were biologically opposite. 

If you want to know what God is like, you have to look at very different human persons in relationship.

This is the role of humanity within the created order: to reflect the nature of God through our relationships with one another. To serve as image bearers. Signaling to the world through our treatment of one another that a good, loving God exists.

And it is our differences in those relationship that most properly reflect God. Our differences are not something to be dealt with, or minimized, or used to our advantage. They are part of the reflection of the image of a God who cannot be represented by just one gender, or just one race.

I don’t need to tell you that we don’t live up to this high calling. That we allow differences to lead to mistreatment. That we allow distrust to tarnish our relationships. That we fail to love. That we fail to honor the dignity of ever human image bearer we encounter.

So what are we to do? What would Jesus tell us if we were to sneak out in the middle of the night, like Nicodemus, and ask him this question?

“Jesus, how do we restore the broken image?”

His answer would likely be the same answer he gave Nicodemus.

You must be born again. You must relearn how to be truly human.

Being born again—becoming more truly human—is a long journey. And it is one that begins at the cross. 

When Nicodemus asks how to be born again, Jesus answers him:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

If the remaking of humanity in the image of the New Adam happened through torture, shame, and crucifixion, we should not expect our own process of being born again to be without pain.

But on the other side of this process of rebirth is a life we were meant to live, a return to our truest origin story. Reflecting the image of the one God through our relationships with entirely different others.

There are countless layers to the challenges our society continues to face, and this is one of them: we have actually believed and embraced the modern origin story.

And we have done so to our collective detriment. 

Change will at least have to involve a rejection of the modern story of who we are and what we are here for, and an embracing of a much older one. This is not an easy task; this origin story is so engrained in our culture that it is hard to even notice. 

The affirmation that all human beings are the creation of a good and loving God rather than the result of chance, violence, and the selection of the strong over the weak has more healing power than many of us realize.

This local, quiet task is something that every teacher, parent, plumber, friend, and pastor can do, starting today.

Do you want to see a shadow of this at work? Check out The Repair Shop, a BBC show about … a repair shop … that seeks to be “an antidote to throwaway culture … shining a light on the wonderful treasures to be found in homes across the country.” 

Watch a few episodes (you can find it on Netflix), and try not to be moved by old objects being restored through tender care because the shop owners believe that these objects and their owners have an inherent sense of dignity. And then imagine going about your own local, quiet work with other people in the same way.

Let them see art

Chapel at Coram Deo Academy of Dallas sometimes includes reflecting on a work of art while reading a passage of Scripture. This Easter season we have been treated to a few Dutch gems.

The format is simple: I read the passage while students reflect on the paintings, and then we all share what we see. Nine times out of ten I am blown away by what they have to share.

I wish every minister in town could see how engaged students are when given the chance to interact with Scripture and great works of art.

Week 4: Christianity & Judaism (Diognetus 3 & 4)

Diognetus 3 

3:1  And next I suppose that you are especially anxious to hear why Christians do not worship in the same way as the Jews. 2 The Jews indeed, insofar as they abstain from the kind of worship described above, rightly claim to worship the one God of the universe and to think of him as Master; but insofar as they offer this worship to him in the same way as those already described, they are altogether mistaken. 3 For whereas the Greeks provide an example of their stupidity by offering things to senseless and deaf images, the Jews, thinking that they are offering these things to God as if he were in need of them, could rightly consider it folly rather than worship. 4 For the one who made the heaven and the earth and all that is in them, and provides us all with what we need, cannot himself need any of the things that he himself provides to those who imagine that they are giving to him. 5 In any case, those who imagine that they are offering sacrifices to him by means of blood and fat and whole burnt offerings and are honoring him with these tokens of respect do not seem to me to be the least bit different from those who show the same respect to deaf images: the latter make offerings to things unable to receive the honor, while the former think they offer something to the one who is in need of nothing.

Diognetus 4

4:1 But with regard to their qualms about meats, and superstition concerning the sabbath, and pride in circumcision, and hypocrisy about fasting and new moons, I doubt that you need to learn from me that they are ridiculous and not worth discussing. 2 For is it not unlawful to accept some of the things created by God for human use as created good but to refuse others as useless and superfluous? 3 And is it not impious to slander God by alleging that he forbids us to do any good thing on the sabbath day? 4 And is it not also ridiculous to take pride in the mutilation of the flesh as a sign of election, as though they were especially beloved by God because of this? 5 And as for the way they watch the stars and the moon so as to observe months and days, and to make distinctions between the changing seasons ordained by God, making some into feasts and others into times of mourning according to their own inclinations, who would regard this as an example of godliness and not much more of a lack of understanding? 6 So then, I think you have been sufficiently instructed to realize that the Christians are right to keep their distance from the common silliness and deception and fussiness and pride of the Jews. But as for the mystery of the Christian’s own religion, do not expect to be able to learn this from a human being.

Questions as you Read and Annotate

What in these readings surprised you?

What Jewish practices mentioned above, although often done with wrong motivation, would be helpful to imitate as Christians?

Apply the Goldilocks Test to this week’s reading: Was the author’s argument against Judaism too strong, too weak, or just right?

when you choose an incompetent sleazebag

If religion and science are correct — or if it is even probable that they are correct — when they claim that the being inside a pregnant womb is human, the government has the constitutional right and the moral responsibility to intervene.

And when you choose an incompetent sleazebag as your party’s presidential nominee, it turns out you forfeit the opportunity for that case to be made on national television.

Better luck next time, GOP. But hopefully there won’t be a next time for the GOP.

On Syrian Refugees

This is not an uncomplicated situation. (Much like the previous sentence, which could have simply read “This is a complicated situation.”) There are refugees fleeing the violence of the Islamic State. There is a chance that among those refugees—as is true among the general population—there are those who wish to do harm to the enemies of the Islamic State. It seems as though all sides of this debate are in agreement that this is the case.

There are hopefully more than two options with two opposite outcomes to choose from here, but let’s say there aren’t. Let’s say that if we accept refugees from Syria, we will die at their hands, much sooner than we had previously expected to die. And let’s say that if we don’t accept refugees from Syria, we don’t die in a terrorist attack, and we live as long as we currently imagine we will live.

(For the record, these are both baseless assumptions, but they do present us with a tangible scenario to think through. Any of us could die on our way home from work this afternoon, and any of us could survive a nuclear terrorist attack.)

Even if our two choices are (1) deny refugees and live a long life or (2) accept refugees and die in a terrorist attack sooner than we think we should, does that change our answer?

Say we choose option one. We refuse refugees, and are therefore not killed in a terrorist attack. We live longer, but our lives are less human. We feel safer, but we love less. We die of natural causes at the end of a long life marked by something other than love for our neighbor, the stranger, and our enemy.

Say we choose option two. We accept the refugee and we are killed. What happens then? We face Jesus. And he says something like “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” And we say something like “When where you a stranger, and when did we welcome you?” And he says something like “As you did unto one of the least of these, you did unto to me.”

I don’t really know what I think about all of this. Were I the one in charge of making the decision, I wish I could say that I am 100% certain of what I would do. But I do know what I want to think, and what by God’s grace I have decided to think, and how I have decided to pray.

Sovereign God, may we who are the Body of Christ, the Church, embrace and welcome the immigrant, the refugee, and all who seek shelter from any danger.

We lift our prayer to You,

People: Lord, hear us.

God of protection, whose Son fled violence from his own home with Joseph and Mary and sought refuge in a foreign land, hear the cries of all who suffer because of hatred, war, violence, greed, and famine. Help us to peacefully mend our divisions, that all you have created in this world may be whole.

We lift our prayer to You,

People: Lord, hear us.

God Who makes us One, we pray for our nation and all the nations of the world, that those who govern the people and have authority over them may consider each life to be of value and may serve the people of their nation with equity and fairness, dedicating themselves to peaceful resolution of conflict.

We lift our prayer to You,

People: Lord, hear us.

Gracious God, we pray for our newest neighbors, that those families who have sought refuge from the ravages of war and violence may find not only shelter and sustenance, but also a loving and supportive community in which to create a new beginning with dignity.

We lift our prayer to You,

People: Lord, hear us.

Loving God, there is no one that goes unnoticed in Your eyes. Take into Yourself all who suffer. May Christ the Wounded Healer relieve the pain of hunger of the refugee, heal the afflicted body, soothe the fears of the mind, bring peace to the soul, and be tender with the broken hearted, that those who have endured unspeakable trials may find themselves restored in Christ.

We lift our prayer to You,

People: Lord, hear us.

Eternal God, may you receive those who have died during times of war and violence into your loving and peaceful arms and may they find rest for their souls. Comfort those who mourn the loss of their friends and loved ones and give them relief from the painful memories they bear, giving assurance of eternal life.

We lift our prayer to You,

People: Lord, hear us.

Almighty and Loving God, you who have crossed the boundaries of Heaven and Earth to be with your people, visit those who must flee their homes because of violence and oppression and lead them to a land of safety.

We give thanks to you, Source of All Being, that you hear our intercessions on behalf of our refugee brothers and sisters. We thank you that love swallows fear, that in your compassion we learn to walk with those who suffer, that when we give of ourselves we receive far more, and that when we receive those who stand knocking at our doors, we receive Christ the Beloved One.

May all praise, glory and honor be to our God, the Most High.

Amen.

If you are looking for a place to give, consider our dear friends at For the Nations Refugee Outreach.

Conscience and Voting

I am honestly baffled by Christians on both sides of the political spectrum who are able to vote with a clean conscience. Why?

1. I don’t see how anyone taking the moral teaching of Christianity seriously cannot agree with at least most of the consistent-life ethic.

Aside 1: I would personally argue for agreeing with all of it.

Aside 2: You can certainly be a Christian and not hold this ethic, but I certainly think that you are a terribly wrong Christian for doing so.

2. I don’t see any candidates in my districts or state consistently holding this ethic, or even most of it.

My honest struggle is how do you pick-and-choose what “life” is more important to protect?

I would not necessarily argue for abstaining from voting; I will be voting today. But I am very weary of a Christian conscience that is not somehow conflicted every time one heads to the polling station without a candidate who embraces a consistent-life ethic.